The M112 New Cross to Forest Hill Railway Cutting, including the Buckthorne Road section that is under threat of development, has been an area of historical importance for more than 300 years, and has been particularly significant since 1806 and the emergence of the Croydon Canal. This Green Corridor is now at risk unless our campaign is successful.
Medieval Times – 1800s: Rural Brockley Green
The area formed part of the hamlet of Brockley Green, a name which has since disappeared from Ordnance Survey maps. The name Brockley derives from Broca’s wood. ‘Broc' meaning either badger or brook and ‘ley’ meaning a wood.Woodlands in the area once formed the Great North Wood, a mosaic of managed oak and hornbeam coppices and open wood-pasture that stretched from Deptford towards Sydenham and Croydon. Remnants of this woodland can be seen in local place names such as Forest Hill and Honor Oak.
The area around the railway line would have been disturbed as a result of the construction of the Croydon Canal and later the railway line, and so the woodland is mostly secondarily developed from that of the Great North Wood. Ordnance Survey maps shows existence of woodland since the early 1800s, pointing to the significance of this area and the probable presence of veteran trees. History maps point to this evidence; the site of the scouts hut (now a church hall) being the most consistently covered by woodland since the early 1900s.
The London to Lewes Roman road used to run through here following the footpath from Nunhead, along present day Eddystone Road Bridge and south-eastwards over Blythe Hill Fields. The route is seen on historic maps as a country footpath (now called Brockley Way), one of the oldest thoroughfares in Brockley.
1800-1830s: Construction of the Croydon Canal
The Croydon Canal opened on 23rd October 1809. It ran 9.25 miles (15 km) from Croydon, via Forest Hill (not original name), to the Grand Surrey Canal at New Cross. The canal broadly followed the current railway route but constructed to follow contour lines, with impressive views across the surrounding countryside. It rose through a series of 28 locks between New Cross and Honor Oak. From the final lock, near Honor Oak Park station, the canal wound round the hills of Forest Hill and Sydenham towards Norwood and Croydon. At Brockley was its highest point (reported to be at 150/160 feet above sea level), descending the hill towards Grand Surrey Canal.
The greatest concentration of locks was between Brockley and Honor Oak Park - sixteen of them in the short distance now travelled from one station to the next. This is reported to have been one of the reasons for its eventual decline. The two existing bridges at Darlymple Road and Eddystone Road are the locations of the Brockley swing bridge and Lock 22 swing bridge respectively.
The canal was intended to transport fuel (timber, coal, charcoal), building materials, foodstuffs and other goods more conveniently than was possible on the roads. However, the canal proved uneconomical and difficult to manage, and closed on 22 August 1836, the first canal to be abandoned by an Act of Parliament.
Much of the alignment was used by the London & Croydon Railway Company (LC&R), which had bought the canal to build the railway between London Bridge and (what is now West) Croydon.
1830s: Construction of Railway Line
In 1834 the London & Croydon Railway Company (LCRC) began showing an interest in the land and assets of the canal. In 1836 the railway line from London to Croydon was built, generally following the route of the canal. However, the greater speed of trains meant that, unlike the leisurely meanderings of the canal, the railway line used cuttings and embankments to avoid such twists and turns. The railway opened in June 1839, and is the second oldest passenger line in London.
By 1868 the train line had been running for 30 years. At this stage, the footpath (Dead Lane) crossed the railway line along present day Courtrai Road towards Brockley Forest, now the Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, which had opened 10 years earlier in 1858. Courtrai Road is now a dead end. The woodland at the Courtrai Road entrance is also well depicted in mid-19th century maps and is the site most at risk of property development.
1900s-1990s: The Scouts Group and emergence of three nature reserves
In 1912 the 1st Forest Hill Scout group who later became the St. Hilda’s 2nd Crofton Park Scout group formed and used the land at Courtrai Road for scouting activities. In 1914 Courtrai Road bridge is demolished. The war broke out and archive photos show the 1st Forest Hill Scouts group patrolling the railway at the Courtrai road entrance to the site.
The area at the rear of Buckthorne Road is open and accessible. During this period a dwelling was built where the prefab scout hut currently stands - probably the first scout hut.
According to Ken White’s written account, the Second Crofton Park Scout group formed there in 1927. He also mentions that “the wooded area along the line is considered a Nature Reserve”.
1940-65 – The scouts building has disappeared from maps at this point, most likely bombed during the 2nd world war as Buckthorne Road was heavily bombed. In 1965, borough boundaries were created splitting the site in to two with Scout hut/ woodland space in SE23 and the rest of the land up to Eddystone Road in SE4.
An aerial photo from 1965 clearly shows that trees populate the whole stretch, but also suggests that the land was still openly accessible at this point, with no perimeter fencing. In the mid-1960s, the pre- fab scout hut was built on the site and this was used by the scouts until approximately 2004.
In 1981 part of the cutting on Devonshire Road towards Forest Hill became a Local Nature Reserve in response to the concern of local residents over tree felling on the site by British Rail. The Council took up the cause, and British Rail agreed to lease the land to the Council as an educational nature reserve.The Council then obtained a separate licence to manage the eastern side of the cutting opposite Devonshire Road known as Garthorne Road Reserve in 1987 as well as a section of the cutting in New Cross which the London Wildlife Trust now manage with Network Rail.
Sadly after the council secured these 3 sites as Local Nature Reserves the railway then decided to try and build and succeeded in selling off the widest part of the Railway Corridor only a namely the Buckthorne Road Cutting leaving the entire green corridor as risk of being broken.
1989/1990: The railway proposed a housing development on the Scout Hut site at Courtrai Road. The proposal failed based on its environmental value and in 1999 it was sold to a private developer.
The site was designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
All trees on the woodland stretch from Courtrai Road and along Buckthorne Road to Eddystone Road were granted Tree Preservation Orders.
This SINC land with TPOs was sold again to another property developer. The site comprised 2 separate pieces of land: the Scout hut land at Courtrai Road, and the rest of the space up to Eddystone Road. The developer proposed development of flats at the Eddystone Road end of the site. The proposal failed based on its environmental value and the two sites were sold at auction to another buyer, meaning that the land from Courtrai Road to Eddystone Road came under one ownership.
The Courtrai Road end of the site was, until about 2004 accessible by the community and in use by the scout group. When the site was sold again to the current developer in 2004 (AA Homes and Housing owned by Anwar Ansari) the scouts decided to leave.
The Scouts hut was leased by AA Homes and Housing to the Celestial Church of Christ Mercyland Parish and in this time there appears to have been a general disregard for its SINC designation and therefore its environment value with signs of degradation. Evidence has been recorded of Calor Gas bottles and rubbish being dumped on the land. TPO trees have been removed and not replaced.
In July 2017 the Church moved out leaving this once beautiful site scarred and unsightly with a plan for 14 residential units placed on AA Homes and Housing website.
A survey is carried out funded by Crofton Park Assembly Community Grant. The survey states that the site exceeds the requirements needed for nature reserve status.
The Scout Hut and surrounding land are designated as an Asset of Community Value following an application by the Fourth Reserve.